I joined IITM in 2007 in Engineering Design Department for a supposed DD in Automotive engineering[i]. I got lucky and was housed in Ganga at a time when Ganga had some of the most inspiring seniors in the institute. As a fresher, everything seemed to be based out of Ganga – Shaastra, Saarang, C-TIDES, CFI – many of the founding guys/cores/secs were in Ganga at that time. Got doubly lucky, because our batch, for some random reason, had most of the students from the same stream holed up in the same hostel. Our ED batch, in my opinion, was the most ‘different batch’ that ED has had in its small history yet. I can barely think of any guys left in ‘traditional jobs’ merely 18 months after graduation. I must also mention, a hyper-enthu wing, which seemed to be involved in everything from Saarang elections to T5E to being a key part of the 5 year Shroeter winning team (of course I wasn’t involved in any of those).
Tried my hand at a bunch of things in the first year – GA vol for Shaastra, events vol for Saarang, vol for C-TIDES, participating in Shaastra and Tech-Soc and tried to learn hockey. Luckily, in my second year I figured out that most of the above wasn’t interesting enough or that I just would not fit in the standard insti model of vol-cord-core-secy-placement success. Eventually, I started dropping some of the tags for more meaningful stuff and realized that C-TIDES could give me a ton of opportunities and that building products excited me massively. Eventually i became Student head for C-TIDES[ii].
One of the most defining moments of my insti life was the ASES entrepreneurship meet-up in Stanford that I got into during my second year. Simply put, it was the single most awesome thing to have happened to me during my insti life. Silicon valley blew me away. The fact that people could have the audacity to work on things as massive as ‘downloading the entire internet’ (Google), or ‘organizing the entire web’ (Yahoo), or ‘building networked computers’ (Sun Microsystems) while still living in their dorms was mind-boggling. All of the cool companies in the world seem to have their offices in the same place in Palo Alto and the entire place was brimming with energy. In the campus, every alternate person that I seemed to meet, apparently was working on the ‘next big thing’. Of course, most of them would fail – but some of them would find success! Compared to IIT, where everybody’s (including mine) dream seem to be limited to getting a great job or cracking the app/MBA scene – Stanford and the general silicon valley culture was something completely different.
I found a new love for product start-ups and found a new admiration for the CFI chaps and their passion for building[iii]. I found a bunch of equally enthu guys in campus and started working on several ideas/products in insti after that. Some of our prototypes still survive (3 Stirling engines and the still on-going project on HuMotor come to my mind).
Got shortlisted for the HBS 2+2 program, which messed up with my mind big time[iv]. I got lost out in the final interviews and it confused me massively. I sort of lost track as to what I planned on doing post-graduation. Thus, I eventually sat for placements and had an extremely bad time. I decided to get into an auto company in Chennai and started on the new job. I never found the work super interesting and planned to exit within 10 months itself[v]. Luckily, one of the patents we had filed for lithium ion batteries post-graduation, seemed exciting enough. One of my batch mates (Swapnil) left his job even before I could leave mine and hiked back to Chennai from Bangalore. He just trusted that things would work out and we will figure out what to start-up on. Finally, 6 months into the job my boss handed me the job confirmation letter and congratulated me. So, I got that letter at 11 am and by 1 pm I was back in ED in the rooms of one of my profs asking if he can support us as we tried to build electric scooters (we had no idea and were just making up the entire plan while walking towards his room). Luckily, most profs in ED were super-supportive and he was no different. He offered to support us in any possible way, provided I leave my job asap.
And that’s how we ended up starting Ather Energy. Over the last few months we have raised good funding, got together a kick-ass team (13 as of last count) and built a bunch of prototypes for pure electric scooters. We went from designing merely battery add-ons, to designing battery packs, to designing scooter frames to finally designing the entire system (pack, electronics, communication systems, loggers, mechanicals) for a smart electric vehicle.
My advice to any freshie? Don’t do what everybody expects you to do. Don’t plan your life. Trust your intuition. Unless you are completely retarded (hint: no you are not, you managed to get here), things will work out just fine for you come whatever.
And yes, do try and have a good time. It might just be the best time you will ever have.
[i] The senate eventually decided that we never learned enough of auto and made us graduate with DDs in ED only.
[ii] Yes, it is quite ironical given the rant in the same para.
[iii] I always believed that there should have been two sides of CFI – one which allowed people to just build for the fun of it and one which made people think on how to build a ‘product’.
[iv] I am sure, that it is one of the best opportunities that you can get. But I just wasn’t ready for something like this. I wasted a lot of time preparing for something that I was clearly not suited for then.
[v] Must give credit to the company. They did put me in a very nice department. I just would not have been a good fit in the long run.